Ahead of this week’s highly anticipated EU-Ukraine summit, the prime minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal, told Politico that he expects his country to become a full-fledged member of the European Union within two years.
In a recent interview, the Ukrainian premier discussed his tight two-year timetable for EU membership with the paper. “We have a very ambitious plan to join the European Union within the next two years,” he said. “So we expect that this year, in 2023, we can already have this pre-entry stage of negotiations.”
But contrary to Kyiv’s—perhaps unreasonably—high hopes, EU officials are “trying to keep Ukrainian membership as a far more remote concept.” Managing Ukrainian expectations and providing a more accurate timetable, therefore, will likely be the primary job of the EU delegation during the summit. “Expectation is quite high in Kyiv, but there is a need to fulfill all the conditions that the Commission has set out,” said one senior EU official to Politico. “It’s a merit-based process,” he added.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron, it could take decades for Ukraine to complete the accession process. Most other EU leaders—although quietly—agree with his assessment. However special Ukraine’s case might be, there is much work to be done before it can join the EU, as the queue of candidate countries (such as Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, or Bosnia) clearly show, some of which have been waiting for approval for more than twenty years.
The question about ‘fast-tracking’ Ukraine’s accession process is a delicate one. Certain officials feel that the European Union bears a special responsibility toward Ukraine since it was the pro-EU protest at Maidan Square in 2014 that can be viewed as the starting point of today’s bloody conflict. Among them appears to be Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, who said earlier that Ukraine was “the only country where people got shot because they wrapped themselves in a European flag.”
While Kyiv’s closest allies, such as Poland and the Baltic states, are in support of giving Ukraine full membership as fast as possible, seeing it also as a strategic victory against Russia, others in the EU are more skeptical of the speed at which Ukraine is implementing the much-needed reforms required to join. A few member states are also concerned about the financial impact of a rushed membership, as war-torn Ukraine will definitely take up most of the cohesion funds that would have otherwise gone to the lagging economies of the bloc.
Perhaps the most pressing reforms Ukraine would have to implement for a successful bid concern the country’s reportedly high level of corruption. Earlier this month, two deputy ministers were outed over scandals related to war profiteering in public procurement contracts. But PM Shmyhal is confident that Kyiv will tackle the problem swiftly and effectively. “Unfortunately, corruption was not born yesterday, but we are certain that we will uproot corruption,” he said, adding that Ukraine has “a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.”